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Shafts of Light through the Trees: Cherishing the Things that Matter Most



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Spring in Arkansas is heavenly. Nancy and I were walking around the neighborhood enjoying the redbuds, azaleas, and dogwoods set among the oaks and pines in our neighborhood of old cottages and grand homes. It is a blessing that our neighborhood in a large city is surrounded by a pristine park.

We enjoyed the house up the street with the lovely garden and birdhouses. It sends a warm greeting to would-be visitors both human and avian. We enjoyed the big, new house with the tasteful style.

Tempted

We passed the old rock house at the end of our lane and the familiar feeling of longing erupted again. A magical house! What a joy it would be to own it and fill it with color and adventure. I was sorely tempted to have a full-blown fit of coveting.

But our souls have wisdom beyond our thoughts. My impulse at coveting got sidetracked by heavenly sense. What would I do with the vast spaces in that three-story house? How would we heat them, furnish them, and use them? Would the magnificent house fill the measure of its creation by hosting just Nancy and me?

I was reminded of the revelation that eased into my heart recently when I was negotiating with the Lord for more resources. Father whispered: “I will give you all the resources you will use to bless my children.”

I had to smile. I knew that my first interest in that grand house—and many of my other requests—was blessing one particular child of His: me. I was not seeking to bless His children in general.

I am grateful for a Father who is not corrupted by my self-serving visioning. Our current house is pretty ordinary. It is small by today’s ambitions. We have tried to make it warm, welcoming, and creative. But it is modest.

Dreams

Nancy and I continued our walk through the neighborhood. We stopped at the gully with the grand trees and the occasional flood of water. What fun it would be to build a home nested in that heart of nature! “And it might be done economically,” I try to convince myself.
On the corner we admired the tastefully updated cottage. If the owners were to sell it, it would be hopelessly beyond our means. Good taste is expensive. And it is easy for appreciation to mutate into yearning.

Elizabeth

Nancy gently nudges me forward. We pause in front of our neighbor Elizabeth’s house. She is one of the most amazing people we have ever met. She does beautiful tailoring. She works tirelessly in her yard. She cooks magnificent meals—that she often shares with us. Amazing for anyone. Especially for an 87-year-old widow.

For the four years we have lived in the neighborhood we have enjoyed being friends with her. We have helped her paint most the rooms in her house. We have replaced batteries in smoke alarms. We have fixed the drain under her sink. We have fixed light fixtures. We have puzzled over the igniters in her gas stove. We have mowed her lawn and trimmed her hedge.

This is no one-way street. She has taught us, cheered for us, cooked for us, and kept us company. Virtually every week for four years we have gotten together for a house project, to go out to dinner, or to cook hot dogs in our back yard. For a person who does not weigh 100 pounds when carrying the groceries, she has a remarkable appetite. When Nancy, Elizabeth, and I go for big burgers, we always order two. Nancy and I share one. Elizabeth eats the other single-handedly.

A Style All Her Own

Elizabeth is remarkable not only for her industry but also for her sense of humor. Her Scottish accent enriched her clever statements: When I was obviously pondering another helping of a delicious meal she cooked for us, she would whisper: “You’re at your auntie’s and she’s blind.” Or after we helped her with her yard, she would enthuse: “I feel like a dog with two tails!” Of a trip to visit family, she reported, “On that airplane I felt like jumping up and shouting ‘hooray.’ But I just sat there like an old lady.” When returning from a visit to family, having been given several gifts, she observed: “My bag was packed like a dog’s breakfast.” Appreciative of small pleasures, she once declared: “I lit the heater and took a bath and oh! I wouldn’t call the queen my cousin.”

Since she immigrated to the states from Scotland right after the war, she has a different take on many issues where we have developed hardening of the categories. For example, she continues to be dismayed that so many poor Americans go without medical care. In her homeland, it is not so.

A Model for Us

Elizabeth is both one of the most and least educated people we know. She never enjoyed the luxury of getting much formal education. Though she was a bright and promising learner, her family was painfully poor. So she reads and re-reads every work of great literature in our community library. She probably has read more books than anyone I know.

Life has always been a struggle for her. The poverty of childhood was hardly relieved in adulthood. She struggled to furnish her home and care for her children. She even gathered up dust in the alley to use as topsoil in her yard. And she clipped grass runners to transplant to bare places. When one of the neighbors pays tens of thousands of dollars for landscaping, it seems almost vulgar when Elizabeth is out in her worn work dress, planting sprigs of rescued grass.

The Joy Then Is Part of the Sorrow Now (from Shadowlands)

We sigh as we reflect on the blessing of Elizabeth. Her family is now hauling her furniture to Memphis. Her hopes for a leisurely retirement have been rudely blasted by a final illness that offers her only a few weeks of painful reflection before departing to the next life.

So we return home from our walk both sad and grateful. We are sad for Elizabeth’s pain. And we miss her terribly. But we are grateful for her grace, her spunk, her wry sense of humor, her graciousness, and both her spoken and unspoken expressions of appreciation. We are grateful for the opportunity to love her and be loved by her in return.

Big houses don’t seem so important when we cherish the things that matter most. Coveting is subdued by love. Rather than a bigger house, maybe we can make better use of the house God has given us—the house that gave us Elizabeth as a neighbor and friend.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Peggy Snow Cahill January 24, 2008 at 8:37 am

    “…she continues to be dismayed that so many poor Americans go without medical care. In her homeland, it is not so.”

    C’mon, Brother Goddard, teach her what the Prophet Ezra Taft Benson said about the evils of socialism (and what President Hinckley has also said!) Scotland is replete with currents of anti-Americanism, with the attendant lies about American health care. I am married to a Canadian, and lived in Canada for two years, so I have heard all the same stories. But we must speak up for truth when the opportunity presents itself. The government must not be enshrined as our God and caretaker. Government that tries to be our God and family will take away our rights to our real God and family.

    The battle in Heaven was fought over whether we would be free to make wrong choices. Sometimes that freedom looks very messy to others who would prefer a “perfect” world. I prefer freedom. Christ died so we might have that freedom. I reject the worldly notion of finding perfection through man’s government.

    Elizabeth sounds like a wonderful person, and her colorful speech sounds like my Newfoundlander husband who is of full Irish stock (he says that dog’s breakfast line as well). I have had to spend the last five years or so teaching him the Gospel, and unprogramming him of his socialist indoctrination, so this is a very sensitive topic for me.

    Latter-day Saints should know the importance of this country in the Lord’s work in the last days. And should most definitely be aware of the need for freedom, rather than giving up one’s authority to the state. Yet, so many of the intellectual Latter-day Saints who speak/write online seem to enjoy getting on the European/Canadian/American liberal bandwagon of criticizing our country and its freedom.

    And besides, according to Anne Perry, an LDS writer who lives in Scotland, the number of young Latter-day Saints who remain in Scotland grows ever smaller, because it is so very hard to live there. As with most of Europe and the UK, the jobs are scarce, and the cost of living is high. Yes, the government can give you a handout there, and you can have all the medical care you care to stand in line and wait for, but that is hardly what is necessary to marry and raise a family.

    I have seen state-rationed healthcare, and it is a huge mistake, as all socialist endeavors are. They are ultimately the same trap Satan always lays…give up our authority and freedom, in order to be relieved of our responsibility. But we know where that trap leads, and the flaxen cords that are for now not too harsh will become heavy unbreakable chains.

    Europe is even now beginning to see the light regarding socialism (because it is failing), and will perhaps have to teach the leftist Americans that it still doesn’t work, and cannot work, for it is not created upon principles of righteousness.

    Not to turn this into a political thing, but Brother Romney’s health care plan has been criticized as socialistic, while it is in reality more like the Swiss medical model, which is not government-based, but is dependent on the private market, and is the most sensible model out there.
    I pray I have not been too harsh. I enjoy your writing style, Brother Goddard, and thank you for sharing your expertise with us on Meridian.

  • Reply admin January 30, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you for your observations. My experience is certainly less broad than yours. Like you, I do not believe that the federal government can solve all our problems.

    However, I do find myself very challenged by King Benjamin’s words. “Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 4:17-18).

    Clearly King Benjamin does not provide us a specific public policy recommendation. He does not specify the governmental role in addressing the problem. But his message, and that of almost all scripture, does challenge us to balance freedom with responsibility. We are to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). We are to look after the widow and the fatherless. The mandate is clear.

    Some may do that through community service. Some may make generous contributions to fast offerings, humanitarian, and perpetual education funds. I think it is possible that the government could appropriately do more than it does. I am confident that God expects us to be doing more than most of us are to help and encourage his disadvantaged children.

    That is the fitting rebuke I take from Elizabeth and from King Benjamin. I welcome your suggestions about how we can better balance freedom with the continuing mandate to care for those who struggle.

    -Wally

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